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Taxonomic and conservation implications of ecological speciation in Nesospiza buntings on Tristan da Cunha

  • Peter G. Ryan (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

In addition to protecting species, conservation also includes the maintenance of evolutionary processes, but this aspect is often overlooked. Nesospiza buntings provide a good case study of the need to conserve evolutionary processes. They are endemic to the South Atlantic Tristan da Cunha archipelago, and traditionally have been treated as two species, with each having different subspecies on Nightingale and Inaccessible Islands. Both species are listed as Vulnerable because of their small ranges (<20 km2) and the threat posed by the possible introduction of alien organisms such as mice or rats. The two species differ markedly in size, especially bill size, related to dietary differences. However, recent research suggests that morphological diversity evolved independently on Nightingale and Inaccessible Islands, necessitating a revision of the taxonomy within the genus. I recommend that five taxa be recognized, with two endemic to Nightingale and three to Inaccessible Island. N. wilkinsi and N. questi on Nightingale are well-defined species, but there is considerable hybridization between taxa on Inaccessible Island. These three taxa may be incipient species, but are perhaps best treated as subspecies: N. acunhae acunhae, N. a. dunnei and N. a. fraseri (nom. nov.). All three species qualify as threatened, with N. acunhae and N. questi Vulnerable and N. wilkinsi Endangered. With fewer than 200 individuals, N. wilkinsi has one of the smallest natural populations of any bird. A reassessment of its population size is a conservation priority, following the 2001 storm that damaged many Phylica trees on Nightingale Island. Improved biosecurity quarantine measures are also needed for Nightingale Island. Care should be taken not to disrupt the natural processes occurring among bunting taxa on Inaccessible Island.

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Bird Conservation International
  • ISSN: 0959-2709
  • EISSN: 1474-0001
  • URL: /core/journals/bird-conservation-international
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